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Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Facciamo Cuocere! Let's Cook.....Italian!

Being an on again, off again “dependent spouse” has had it’s ups and downs. Accompanying a husband who has dedicated a major portion of his career to working for non-profit organizations has had it’s challenges, mainly a personal career path with lots of detours and stops (when forced into “hibernation” during those “dependent spouse” phases). On the other hand, it has given me extraordinary experiences. Living and working in third world countries like Bangladesh and Cote’dvoire, rich Arab countries like Dubai, developing tigers, India and South Korea, South East Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, and now right here in the heart of Europe, Rome, has given me an uncommon view of the world! My children have had major challenges too, undoubtedly they have had a very rich growing-up experience, but were definitely not immune to all the problems attached to being part of the “cultural nomad” generation.

One of the things that we have all taken with us from these experiences is the appreciation for different types of food. We all love to eat and one of the things we tried to do, wherever we were was to look for local restaurants to enjoy and more importantly, learn how to cook local food. As a family, you can say we are adventurous “food afficionados”.

In Rome, it is only my husband and I, my son and his wife live in Vancouver, my daughter in Boston and our cook of 23 years is not with us, but I continue the tradition. I have tried to cook Italian and I think, making a success of it.

One thing I have learned is that Italians, like the Chinese put great emphasis on the freshness of ingredients. My grandfather-in-law, a tai-chi master in his youth went to the market daily to buy the food they were going to have for that day. He did this until the day of his death, when he went to the market as usual in the morning and sat in his porch, where they found him when they went to call him for lunch. He was 95. Come to think of it, my husband's penchant for going to the market and or grocery must have been inherited! Here in Rome, I am trying to follow grandfather's way, I try to buy whatever (at least the main ingredient) we will eat for dinner on the same day.

So what have I cooked?

Osso Bucco!

The first thing I tried was osso bucco. I tried cooking this in two ways: I tried a recipe by Guida de Laurentiis, which I found on the internet. The important ingredients, the veal shanks and the white wine, but the recipe also called for onions, garlic, carrots, celery, a bouquet garni of rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and cloves, the dredging with flour.... you get the idea This involved a lot of work and ingredients, I’m not too fond of chopping, dicing mincing etc. which adds to the clean up after, which is also tedious and boring. My complaints aside, it was pretty good and my husband enjoyed it. But it was too labour-intensive for me.

floured veal shanks
 I was given a simpler recipe, Milanese style which I decided to try. The veal shanks are cut to about an inch thick and around 6 to 7 inches across. The recipe is as follows:

1 small onion chopped
Some butter
Olive oil
½ cup or so white wine
2/3 cup water ( I used broth the second time I made this)
Some tomato paste

And for the gremolada:
2 or so cloves garlic
A sprig of rosemary
2 or so leaves of sage
Zest of 1 lemon grated
Chop all of this together

My Osso Bucco Milanese
Dredge the shanks with flour and set it aside. In a dutch oven sauté the chopped onion in butter and olive oil until transparent. Remove these from the pan and brown the shanks in the butter, olive oil mixture, sprinkling the white wine over these. When the shanks are brown, return the onions to the pan, add the tomato paste and the hot broth (you may need a bit more of this) simmer till the shanks are tender. When the shanks are tender, remove them from the pan and add the gremolada to the sauce. Season and pour over shanks and serve with Arborio rice. I have cooked this twice already, very good and the amount of work involved...not too much.

Fried zucchini flower!

fresh zucchini flowers
 From the first time I tried it, I loved it, talking about fried zucchini flowers. I tried it stuffed and plain. I loved them both. I knew I was going to try this at home. Sticking to my belief that kitchen duties need not take over your entire life, I decided to do a plain version. The first thing is to remove the stamen of the flower. You do this by sticking your hand into the delicate blossoms and pinching the stamen to remove them. Wash them very gently and then leave them to dry.

fried zucchini flowers
 I found several recipes for the batter, in which these blossoms are first immersed in and then deep fried. I tried one with egg and I found it too heavy. I tried another that simply called for flour and water, which was ok but I decided to use beer instead of just water. That turned out very well and that’s how I’ve cooked my zucchini flower ever since.


My mother has this fantastic spanish recipe for tripe, Callos Madrilena, which has been a family favorite from my childhood. Here it is so much easier to do as the tripe comes cleaned and already partially boiled. I tried cooking this in Korea, failed miserably, basically because of the fact that the tripe was still in it's natural state and cleaning it stunk up my whole house!

I cooked Callos once since I came to Rome and even if my husband really likes it, I find it hard doing it again, basically because of the preparation involved. But I was given a recipe for tripe, Trippa Genovese which I will cook again and often.

Here is the recipe:

First boil the tripe in water with a little white wine vinegar for about an hour. Then let it cool and slice it.

About a pound of tripe
3 bay leaves
extra vigin olive oil
1 onion chopped finely
2 clove garlic chopped
chilli flakes
3-4 large ripe plum tomatoes diced
fresh basil chopped
fresh parley chopped
oregano flakes
mixture of pecorino and parmiggiano cheese

Trippa Genovese
  Saute onions and garlic in olive oil until transparent then add the tripe and chili flakes stirring around until coated with the oil, add the wine and simmer until half the wine has evaporated, then add all the other ingredients and bring to a boil and then lower the fire and allow to simmer for 30 or so minutes. After thirty minutes add a mixture of pecorino and parmiggiano cheese and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Then taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with Italian bread or baguette. This recipe is even better the next day.

Horse, anyone?

As for my failures, there have been some but nothing as spectacular as when I tried cooking Cavallo (horse meat). There is a small space in the meat chiller counter of our supermarket reserved for horse meat, which has a deeper almost dark red color as compared to beef. I've seen them thinly sliced and in cubes. I decided one day to try the cubed one in a stew. Was told that cooking cavallo is like cooking beef, except that overcooking would toughen it. Boy were they right! Ever hear that expression "it's like eating leather"? Well that was exactly how it was. But undeterred, I will try again, this time will use the thinly sliced meat and cook it very briefly. Maybe the Japanese have it right, they reputedly eat horse meat raw! 

I have tried cooking some other dishes, which I will write about eventually, but one thing I haven't tried cooking is the dolce part of the meal. Next time my sister visits me, we might just do that!

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